By Laura del Carpio.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the 3rd annual Suicide and Self-Harm Early and Mid-Career Researcher’s Forum at the University of Glasgow. Since 2016, this event has brought together researchers at the early (and mid) stages of their careers, people with lived experience, and experts in the field, gathering to share their knowledge and ideas in a welcoming and supportive environment. This year, the conference was spread out over two packed days, and saw delegates travelling from across the UK and Europe, and from as far as Brazil, USA, and Australia.
As always, Glasgow came through with its usual (ahem*) sunny weather, and the conference kicked off with opening remarks from Professor Rory O’Connor, followed by three engaging talks on methodological innovations. Dr Wouter van Ballegooijen, Dr Dee Knipe, and Dr Ian Hussey spoke about the opportunities of mobile technology and ecological momentary assessments to monitor suicide risk, the practicalities of using multilevel modelling with complex data, and issues of replicability and the Open Science “revolution”. A particularly memorable moment was in Dr Knipe’s presentation reflecting on her own career path, where she discussed the importance of embracing one’s failures – something not often acknowledged in the world of academia, and refreshing to see here.
The oral presentations which followed consisted of parallel sessions over two days, covering a range of topics including suicide and self-harm in specific populations, theoretical and methodological issues, and prevention efforts and reflections on risk factors and interventions. There was so much inspiring work being carried out by colleagues from across the world. I was privileged to be able to present my own research by giving a talk on my experiences conducting schools-based research on a sensitive topic (bereavement among adolescents and the experience of self-harming thoughts and behaviours following a death). Having faced a number of obstacles whilst carrying out my recent study – from concerns of ethics committees and gatekeepers about the potential risks of investigating sensitive issues, to methodological and practical concerns relating to school settings – I wanted to reflect on these experiences and share my learning with others. After my talk, I was approached by other delegates who had been through similar experiences, and it was great to have their feedback on some of the points I had raised. Alongside the oral presentations were a number of interesting poster presentations, which again reflected the wide array of methods and topics represented at the event.
A highlight of the conference was a “Meet the Experts Panel”, featuring Dr Lisa Marzano, Dr Niall Boyce, and Professor Rory O’Connor. They discussed the use of risk assessments in predicting suicide, given the recent meta-analysis by Franklin and colleagues which suggested that our ability to predict suicidal thoughts and behaviours over the last 50 years remains quite poor . It was suggested that a key point to consider is the purpose of risk assessments – whether they are employed as mere tick box exercises without further exploration, or as assessment tools to guide research and practice, and help gather information to open up discussions on suicide. It was also terrific to hear the panel reflect on the often overlooked issue of mental health among postgraduate researchers, with the panel acknowledging the need for more services and supports for ECRs, as well as changing the culture of overworking which too often is seen as the norm.
Day two begun with further insights from Dr Lisa Marzano, whose keynote talk covered her work using digital media to study self-harm and her qualitative project with Samaritans to understand experiences of suicidal thoughts. Later in the day, Dr Niall Boyce gave an informative keynote talk from his perspective as editor of The Lancet Psychiatry. This was particularly relevant to ECRs trying to get their foot in the publishing door, and helpfully covered many of the essential points of the publication process.
Throughout the EMCRF, there were several opportunities for networking. The conference was preceded by a delicious NetECR brunch hosted at a favourite Glasgow venue. As well as the tasty grub, it was a fantastic way to meet colleagues whose names I had yet to put a face to, and break the ice over poached eggs and pancakes. The conference dinner was also held at another beloved local restaurant, where we enjoyed drinks under the setting sun followed by a pleasant meal. I got to meet many inspiring individuals, and I was instantly reminded of what makes the EMCRF so brilliant – connecting people with similar interests who are also in the same boat as each other in what often feels like an isolated and uphill early career journey. The atmosphere was nothing but friendly and supportive throughout.
I left the conference feeling optimistic and determined to carry on with my own work, with many new ideas to digest, knowledge on innovative methods and approaches, and memories of the friendly people I met and look forward to seeing again in the future. Most of all, I was left with the feeling of enthusiasm from all the delegates with a passion to better understand suicide and self-harm. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the team at the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory who put this conference together and the attendees who travelled from far and near, I can’t wait for next year.
 Franklin, J. C., Ribeiro, J. D., Fox, K. R., Bentley, K. H., Kleiman, E. M., Huang, X., Musacchio, K. M., Jaroszewski, A. C., Chang, B. P., & Nock, M. K. (2017). Risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviors: A meta-analysis of 50 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 143 (2), 187-232. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-bul0000084.pdf